Heart of the Story: Although the Shunammite woman did not ask Elisha for a son, he prayed and God gave her one. When the son died, the woman trusted Elisha to heal him.
Story Line: The spectrum of events and resulting emotions seen in the Shunammite woman’s life is incredible. When we first meet her she is accepting, if not content, in her motherless state. Her husband is now old and has not fathered a child with her. She knows Israelite property laws; when her husband dies his property will not go to her but to a male relative. The male relative may or may not take her in to live with his family. If he invites her to live with his family, she will no longer manage a large wealthy household.
Because of his appreciation for the Shunammite woman giving him a furnished room, Elisha tells her she will embrace a child in the next year. The woman’s words indicate that she is overwhelmed. In her simple words, we hear how she longs for a son. At the same time she is afraid to get her hopes up lest she be disappointed.
A year later, the woman had a son. Probably she doted on him and was overcautious in her care. The son grew and one morning he went to his father in the field. There he developed an excruciating headache. The reapers took him to his mother in the house. Then the mother’s worst nightmare occurred, her only child died. Although sobbing internally, the woman proceeded calmly. She took the boy’s body to Elisha’s room and placed him on Elisha’s bed. She left the room firmly closing the door. Likely, the household knew they were not to enter the prophet’s room.
Telling no one of her son’s death, the woman secured a donkey and servant from her husband and road with haste to Elisha. At the time, Elisha lived on Mount Carmel about 25 miles distance from Shunem. A rapid, sustained speed for a donkey to trot is about 20 miles per hour maximum; the Shumammite woman reached Elisha in about 2 hours.
The distraught woman caught hold of Elisha’s feet and said, “Did I ask you for a son? Didn’t I tell you, Don’t raise my hopes?” Under her anguish, these questions show confusion, even anger. Only because God gave her a son did she experience such agonizing pain. How could God raise her hopes only to take them away? The woman struggled to understand how God could take away her son who he gave as a demonstration of his grace.
Although the Shunammite could not get the words that her son was dead past her lips, Elisha surmised that he was very ill or dead. Elisha commanded his servant Gehazi to take his staff and lay it on the boy. Although Elisha believed that God would act through his staff to heal the boy, the Shunammite woman insisted she would only go home when Elisha accompany her. As they approached the woman’s home, Gehazi met them; he reported that the staff caused no change in the boy’s condition. Elisha found the woman’s son dead. After praying, Elisha restored the boy’s live.
The preceding events are sufficient trauma for any one person’s life; however, there is more to come for this generous woman. On Elisha’s recommendation, the Shenammite and her household left Israel because a seven year famine was coming. They went to Philistia west of Judah and close to Egypt, the bread-basket of the Middle East. After the famine, the woman and her son returned to Shunen. The woman’s husband was not mentioned. Possibly he died while the family lived in Philistia. When an Israelite father died, son inherit the property; however, sometime during the family’s seven year absence, their abandoned property was taken over by another individual or confiscated by the king.
The only way the woman and son can get their land restored is to appeal directly to the king. When they arrived in King Jehoram’s audience chamber they find Gehazi, Elisha’s ex-servant there. Gehazi was telling the king about Elisha’s great deeds including bring a Shunammite boy back to life. After hearing from the woman how Elisha restored her son’s life, King Jehoram restored their lands back along with income from the land for the past seven years.
Analysis of Relationships: The Bible gave the clear impression that the Shunammite woman was an initiator of action, first with her husband and then for her son. Because of her, Elisha had a room in her home. Her son was not only born but restored to life. Because of her, the family survived during a famine that killed many who lived in Israel. Because of her, the family’s property was returned by the king.
We hear the emotions the Shunammite woman experienced during these events — acceptance, disbelief, anguish, anger, and joy; however, the Bible provided no thoughts or words from the son other than an outcry about his head hurt. Possibly, he was 6-7 years old when he went out to his father among the reapers; but he was 13-14 when he and his mother return to Shunem. Thirteen was the minimum age for boys to marry while they could make a religious vow at age 14 with their parent’s permission. Perhaps living with such a decisive mother, caused the son to be dependent and act more immature than many of his peers.
Conclusion: The Bible never discounted the role of women a mother in the life of her son. Do you?
Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, January 18, 2015. All rights reserved.